Oceana’s senior vice president for North America and chief scientist Mike Hirshfield sat down with 20/20 to discuss the widespread problem of seafood fraud (skip to around 3:30 in the video). He gives a stark example of the problem.
“If you go to Los Angeles and eat red snapper everyday for the next 30 days you will never see red snapper,” he says.
Not only does seafood fraud affect consumers' pocketbooks (inferior fish are often labeled as more expensive fish and drastically marked up) but it can be dangerous as well. As ABC found in their own investigation, 86% of sushi labeled as white tuna around the country was, in fact, escolar, a fish whose high content of waxy esters can cause "intestinal distress", to put it politely. The results echo Oceana's own investigations of seafood markets and restaurants in Boston, L.A. and Miami which found the problem of fraud to be widespread.
ABC also spoke with Oceana supporter, chef and National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver.
"40,000 fish of copper river salmon were sold last year," he says. "Well, sorry, only 12,000 fish were caught in Copper River last year."
Seaver admits that even chefs of his caliber are vulnerable to the tricks of deceptive marketing, as he describes his recent experience being duped into buying inferior asian crab meat marketed as Maryland blue crab. One of the major problems, he says, is that the country imports more than 85% of its fish but the FDA inspects less than 2% of it. It's why over 500 chefs signed a letter calling for full traceability of seafood sold in the U.S. and why in July, Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act (H.R. 6200). The legislation requires that all seafood sold in the U.S. be fully traceable. Oceana is currently building support in Congress for this important bill. Show you care about what's on your plate and sign our petition.
Today in Morocco the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) wrapped up. Contrary to its name, the ICCAT oversees more than just tuna, regulating a variety of highly migratory fish including several kinds of shark in the Atlantic and surrounding seas.
The takeaway from this year's ICCAT meeting was two-fold: for the beleaguered bluefin tuna which has been subject to extremely high fishing pressure in recent decades ICCAT acted prudently, leaving 2013 catch limits largely the same, even as tuna stocks showed signs of recovery. It was a welcome development from an organization that has sometimes put the interests of the fishing industry ahead of those of the fish.
But for vulnerable and largely unregulated species of shark like the porbeagle and shortfin Mako, ICCAT sat on its hands, rejecting measures that would set limits on mako and failing to adopt science-based proposals to protect endangered porbeagles.
In the New York Times Green blog, Oceana Europe fisheries campaign manager Maria Jose Cornax called the inaction on sharks “a baffling, contradictory approach".
"ICCAT must remove its blinders and look beyond this one fish [bluefin tuna] to the many other stocks for which it is responsible,” she said.
Shark expert and Oceana Europe marine wildlife scientist Dr. Allison Perry condemned the abandonment of sharks at this year’s meeting.
“ICCAT has failed to assume their responsibility for managing shark fisheries in the Atlantic. Allowing stocks to become seriously depleted, and then prohibiting their capture does not qualify as responsible management. Sharks represent more than 15% of all reported catches in ICCAT, yet most sharks caught in ICCAT fisheries remain completely unmanaged.”
Yesterday the California Coastal Commission rejected a proposal by Pacific Gas and Electric to conduct high-energy seismic testing in the ocean surrounding the Diablo Canyon Power Plant near Morro Bay, CA, citing the unacceptable harm such testing would visit upon marine life. The proposal faced massive opposition from a wide coalition of conservation organizations like Oceana and commercial and recreational fishing interests concerned about impacts to fisheries and marine wildlife. This is an important precedent and one that the Department of the Interior should take seriously as it mulls whether to open an enormous expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, from Delaware to Florida, to seismic airgun testing to search for oil and gas deposits.
As initially proposed by Pacific Gas and Electric, the surveys would have entailed blasting 250-decibel pulses of compressed air at the seafloor every fifteen seconds for 9 days. Before the ruling, Pacific Gas and Electric warned that scuba divers in the area could be in danger from the airgun blasts, to say nothing of the fish and marine mammals unfortunate enough to be caught near the testing area. Conservationists and fishermen were concerned that the proposal would damage marine life in the recently designated marine protected areas.
"The proposed tests posed an unacceptable threat to a wide suite of critically important marine life including endangered whales, not to mention untold damage throughout the ocean food chain" said Geoff Shester, Oceana California Program Director after the ruling. "The Commisson’s decision sends a strong signal that this type of seismic testing is simply incompatible with the protection of valuable marine resources."
But the rejected Diablo Canyon proposal pales in comparison to what is currently being planned in the Atlantic where, by the federal government’s own estimate, 138,500 whales and dolphins would be injured by seismic airgun testing for fossil fuels. The Atlantic plan has drawn the hackles of more than just environmentalists. The fishing community is rightfully concerned about the effect such testing would have on their $12 billion industry, having seen fish stocks vanish elsewhere seismic testing has taken place.
All of this just to prolong the dubious legacy of offshore drilling. As Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless wrote in a Politico op-ed, ramped up domestic production of fossil fuels will not lead to cheaper prices at the pump (gas prices are set on the global market).
California made the right decision. Let the Department of the Interior know you want them to make the right decision too. Add your photo to our facebook petition and spread the word.
Between regular 100-year storms, record heat waves and epic droughts watching the weather channel has certainly become more interesting of late. This is “dirty weather” according to the Climate Reality Project, that is, weather that is increasingly influenced by carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels. That’s why starting at 8pm tonight they are airing their Dirty Weather Report, a 24-hour live online broadcast hosted by former vice-president and Nobel laureate Al Gore and featuring comedians, musicians and experts to bring light to the many different ways a changing climate is changing the world around us.
Shortly after John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row was published in 1945 the sardine fishery he immortalized collapsed, taking with it the ramshackle seaside villages of canners that sprouted up in Monterey to accommodate the once booming industry. Now it seems regulators are determined to return to those grim days after the Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a 2013 catch level of 66,495 metric tons of sardines for a fishery that is once again careening towards collapse.
By listening to the presidential debates and political pundits you could be forgiven in assuming that there is some correlation between domestic oil production and the price you pay at the pump. By now it has almost become a tenet of conventional wisdom that an uptick in domestic oil production--especially by expanding offshore drilling--will result in lowered gas prices.
But, is there any indication that this is actually true?
As NPR reporter David Kestenbaum discovered in talking to our energy-independent neighbors to the north, not really.
"Do all the conversions, adjust for taxes, and [Canadians are paying] something around $4 per gallon — about the same price as we pay in the U.S. right now.
Energy independence does not mean cheaper gasoline. It doesn't even mean that prices are more stable. Gas prices in Canada went up this summer just like they did in the United States."
Why is this? Common sense would seem to dictate that the more oil you produce at home the less vulnerable you are to foreign conflagrations, hostile petro-states and a fluctuating world market.
But that is not at all the case. As Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless distilled it in an op-ed for Politico:
Ask yourself this question: When BP or any other big oil company finds oil in the Gulf of Mexico, does it sell it to us at a discount because we were kind enough to let them drill in America?
No, it doesn’t. It sells it all over the world at the price set in the international oil market. As an international commodity, oil is priced on an international basis — according to global supply and demand.
This should be taken into consideration as the clamor for offshore drilling, especially from oil companies, grows. This much is clear: lower oil prices can't justify the perpetual specter of oil spills, seismic testing and greenhouse gas emissions that come from exploiting ever more remote pockets of fossil fuels.
Today Oceana CEO Andy Sharpless wrote an op-ed in USA Today, "A Deaf Whale is a Dead Whale", about seismic airgun testing. As you may know by now, the Department of the Interior is currently reviewing a proposal to search for oil and gas deposits in a huge expanse of the Atlantic Ocean stretching from Delaware to Florida, using seismic airgun arrays.
Andy explains the brutal physics of the operation, which, if approved could wreak havoc on the ocean ecosystem, injuring an estimated 138,500 whales and dolphins:
In seismic airgun testing, a ship tows a seismic airgun, which shoots extremely loud blasts of compressed air through the ocean and miles under the seafloor to help locate oil and gas deposits. These airguns must be incredibly powerful in order to penetrate the water and the earth's crust and then bounce all the way back up to the surface. In fact, the sound generated by seismic airguns is 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine.
All this, he says, while alternatives remain untapped that are both enviromentally and economically more sound (no pun intended).
Using seismic airguns to explore for oil and gas is a destructive step in the wrong direction for ocean-based energy. It is bad for whales and dolphins, fisheries and our economy. We have much better options for energy development in the Atlantic Ocean such as offshore wind, which could supply well over 50% of the East Coast with reliable, clean electricity. Additionally, offshore wind exploration is much less damaging than exploration for oil, and its development will create three times more jobs and power 26 million more homes.
Help Oceana fight this proposal. Add your photo to our facebook petition and spread the word.
The cuisine of Mario Batali, Rick Bayless, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Eric Ripert and Michael Symon may run the gamut from modern French to traditional Mexican, but they can all agree on one thing: It is time to end seafood fraud.
More than 500 chefs and restaurateurs have have joined Oceana's fight against seafood fraud by signing a letter penned by chef and Oceana supporter Barton Seaver, calling on congress to put an end to the deceptive and possibly dangerous practice of mislabeled seafood. It reads in part:
Recent studies have found that seafood may be mislabeled as often as 25 to 70 percent of the time for popular species like red snapper, wild salmon and Atlantic cod, disguising fish that are less desirable, cheaper or more readily available.
With about 1,700 different species of seafood from all over the world now available in the U.S., it is unrealistic to expect chefs and restaurant owners to be able to independently and accurately determine that the fish they are getting is actually the one they paid for. We should be able to tell our customers, without question, what they are eating as well as where, when and how it was caught.
Investigations by Oceana and others have revealed that consumers in several metropolitan areas are routinely served something other than what is on the menu or at the fish market. In the Boston area, seafood was mislabled 48 percent of the time, in Los Angeles 55 percent of the time, and in Miami 31 percent of the time.
But seafood fraud does more than mislead consumers, it's bad for the seafood as well. Customers may have no way of knowing whether they are eating an overexploited species or one that was caught illegally.
In July, Representatives Edward Markey (D-MA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Safety and Fraud Enforcement for Seafood (SAFE Seafood) Act (H.R. 6200). The legislation requires full traceability for all seafood sold in the U.S. Oceana is currently building support in congrees for this important bill. Show you care about what's on your plate and sign our petition.
Oceana chief scientist Michael Hirshfield dropped by Huffington Post Live yesterday to talk sustainability, food security and fish (Michael begins speaking at around the 11 minute mark).
Michael says that the oceans are an often overlooked resource that if managed correctly could become 20 to 40 percent more productive than they are today, and sigificantly contribute to the global food budget in 2050 when world population is expected to top out at 9 billion people. Michael also discusses the merits of aquaculture, a term that encompasses everything from tuna farming which is unlikely to aid food security or the fight against overfishing, to shellfish cultivation, which can benefit both seafood lovers and ecosystems alike. Watch the video to learn more!
Sustainability-minded chef and National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver is the latest victim of seafood fraud. He admitted as much in a recent post on National Geographic's Ocean Views blog. Shopping at one of his favorite seafood markets Seaver was taken in by what he thought to be that staple of mid-Atlantic cuisine, the Maryland blue crab. As he tells it, he didn't get what he paid for:
"Back in my kitchen, the container held beautiful giant lumps of meat, larger than I have seen in decades. I was pleased and thought to myself “hey, the crabs are doing well if we are catching them this big”. I noticed a small red ring on some joints where the muscle had met the leg of the crab, a color that I was not used to seeing. I chalked it up to “maybe I haven’t ever seen crabs this big.” On I went, adding the lemon juice, mayonnaise, and a dusting of breadcrumbs. I texted a picture of the crab to my friend who works with the State of Maryland fisheries congratulating him on the conservation efforts that had obviously worked to bring crab meat this big to my table.
His response, 'Asian! The red tip to the lump gives it away.' I had been beat. Even though I had read the sign, checked the label, and smelled the product, I had been duped."
Seaver also relays how, upon closer inspection, the container attested to the fact that the meat had been pumped with preservatives as well as a water rentention agent. A recent Boston Globe investigation revealed that such chemicals, like sodium tripolyphosphate, are routinely used to plump up seafood, boosting profits for distributors who sell by the pound. Unsurprisingly, Seaver says that the quality of the product suffered as well.
"I tasted the crab and there was a lingering chemical acidity and a muted flavor. Not what I was expecting, nor what I was led to believe I was buying."
Along with U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who earlier this week wrote a letter to the FDA demanding stricter monitoring and enforcement of seafood fraud, Seaver wants to end this deceitful and possibly dangerous practice, and asks readers to sign Oceana's petition to congress for stricter labeling and enforcement. Join the fight against seafood fraud and sign the petition!